Enigmatic Variations 1607 (Hints)
Eightsomes by Gaston
Hints and tips by Phibs
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This is my first encounter with Gaston, whom I initially thought might be so named because of a resemblance to the character in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, one of the ’13 Reflections of Evil’. Slightly disturbed by that idea, I preferred to believe that the pseudonym might reflect a happy association with La Belle France, or a particular affection for Gigi (ah yes, I remember it well).
However, I learn from the Editor that Gaston has already revealed himself in the Setter’s Blog for EV 1458 – it turns out that he is not a setter, rather a cocker spaniel who (assisted by his ‘partner in crime’, Rémy) is apparently not averse to introducing a French theme to his puzzles. Let’s hope that il fait plus de bruit que de mal…
Preamble: One EIGHTSOME (12 words) can be found reading clockwise around the perimeter of the grid, starting at the top left cell. Four apparently nonsensical, but thematic, unclued entries make up a second associated EIGHTSOME. Unchecked letters in the perimeter could make JUST MEN HARM HER SHIP, Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.
A very straightforward rubric, with all clues being gratifyingly normal, and the only way forward to crack on with solving them.
12a Energy of Eastern country with no volcano? (3)
The name of an Eastern country probably associated in most minds with a long-running conflict has the name of a famous volcano removed.
13a Grass-like state? (6)
The single word in the wordplay is really two words, the one before the hyphen delivering four letters of the answer and the one after it yielding two.
19a Perhaps latest partnership surrounds another? (4)
The partnerships are those to be found around the bridge table.
27a In places tease Scotsman like sorcerer (6)
The ‘in places’ here tells us that the required three-letter word is shown by Chambers as ‘dialect’. The second half of the charade is often indicated by ‘Scotsman’, although most of the people of that name whom I have known had no Caledonian connections to speak of.
28a Popular Highland hills? They’re not always so popular! (6)
The second part of the answer here is the plural of a Scots word for ‘a hill, esp rounded or conical’.
1d Sharpness of people following a vocal procession (6)
I’m not over-fond of homophones that produce a non-word which then forms part of the answer, but here we have one such (indicated by ‘vocal’) for a word meaning ‘procession’, providing just two letters which are to be sandwiched between the A and the people.
5d No longer takes jeans of French cut (4)
If you mentally place a comma between ‘jeans’ and ‘of’, this subtraction clue should become easier.
7d Boxer’s in contact with girl (6)
The recent passing of Michael Parkinson has brought the name of this boxer, one of Parky’s favourite interviewees, back into the news. The “boxer’s”, including the possessive “‘s”, gives us four letters of the answer.
10d Against rather than for starting plan to guess (7)
A seven-letter word has one three-letter word at its beginning (ie ‘for starting…’) replaced by another word which is its exact opposite.
26d Shed light on old German abandoning abbreviated GCSE subject (5)
The indicator ‘abandoning’ is a handy one for setters because ‘X abandoning Y’ can mean either that X is removed from Y or that Y is removed from X. Here it is the former, the GCSE subject (in abbreviated form) being one in which I could do no better than a grade 3, due in part, I fear, to the fact that I never got beyond the first couple of chapters of Northanger Abbey or The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Definitions in clues are underlined
Having entered most of the answers to the clues, I decided to go straight for the perimeter phrase rather than trying to make sense of the four unclued entries within the grid. The entry point for me was at the right-hand end of the top row, where there is an unusual sequence of letters at the start of 6/7/8 which all belong to the same word. I was then able to piece together the rest of the perimeter entry, marking off the unchecked letters against the unch message as I went. Having established the theme, there were more than enough letters on show in the four unclued entries to work out what was required there. And that was it.
Puzzles with a substantial number of unchecked cells can be very difficult if the clues are tough (the clued 6-letter entry at 22d, for instance, has only two letters checked by other clued answers), but in general the clues here were pretty friendly, while the endgame was unambiguous. There was more than a whiff of the continent in there (11a, 5d, 21d, 22d, 26d), making me think that perhaps Gaston’s human amanuensis is indeed the owner of a stripy Breton shirt or two.
Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾/🥾🥾 (Suitable for all solvers, including those new to barred puzzles)
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